Peter and I are just wrapping up our long and frozen weekend getaway to Riga, Latvia and Tallinn, Estonia. Latvia and Estonia are two of three countries (aka “states”) which make up the Baltic states; the third is Lithuania.
For the geographically challenged:
The red arrows point to the locations visited, Riga (pronounced ree-gah) and Tallinn (pronounced as spelled, tall-inn). The most surprising thing I learned during this trip is that there is a small section of land between Poland and Lithuania which belongs to Russia (black arrow on the map).
We flew into Riga and spent two nights there and then boarded a bus and drove a pleasant and snowy four hours to Tallinn where we spent three nights. In retrospect, we only needed two nights in Tallinn.
Overall, the weather for the duration of the trip was horrible. It rained every day except for our final day and temperatures hovered above freezing. By the time our final day arrived, we were tired of walking around in the cold, freezing rain and we were also jealous of all the Nordic kids in their warm ski gear. I regretted not having packed a few hand-warming sachets that you put in your gloves to keep your hands and feet warm when doing winter activities.
Riga and Tallinn are both small cities with respect to their historic old towns and things to do and see in freezing rain. Both cities are popular cruise ship ports. Similar to Santorini, the city becomes overcrowded with tourists when cruise ships arrive.
A few observations I made during our trip include:
- People in this region of the world are more outwardly affectionate than anywhere else I have visited, including romantic countries like Italy and France. More cuddling in cafes. More handholding and arms around one another. More kissing. I noticed the vast amounts of handholding on our first night in Riga.
- Women in this region are tall, blonde and thin. Not overly thin. They are of a healthy weight; the weight people should weigh. My worst memory of this trip occurred at breakfast one morning at our hotel. An overweight middle-aged woman was walking out of the restaurant and two men stared as she walked by and then talked about her weight and appearance.
- People dress more formally. Women are almost always in dresses and men in slacks. Jeans were rarely seen, even amongst tourists. I felt underdressed all the time. Dubrovnik, Croatia is the only other city where I have felt this way.
I’m happy we visited Riga and Tallinn but neither city lands at the top of our favorite cities list. Peter enjoyed Riga more than Tallinn and I enjoyed Tallinn more than Riga. Riga’s old town felt like a ghost town. It was dead and without a pulse. Tallinn’s old town felt vibrant and busy with a mix of locals and tourists buzzing about. On the flip side, the area surrounding Riga’s old town offered more than Tallinn’s, mainly because of the mixture of interesting architecture in Riga.
Given these countries are in Eastern Europe, we fully expected smoking to be allowed everywhere but, surprisingly, both countries have smoking bans in place. Smoking is not permitted in restaurants, bars, taxis, train stations, etc. In Tallinn, some establishments have smoking rooms with special extractor fans that are sealed off from the main area. I do not think that smoking rooms are common, however. It would not be feasible for most restaurants and bars to cover the expense of building a smoking room when anyone wanting to smoke could just as easily go outside and at no cost to the business.
Next up, details from our trip to Riga but first, a map of the countries I’ve visited as of April 6, 2015. For a country to be included, I used the criteria that we were physically in the country for more than 12 hours and had eaten a sit-down meal outside of the airport/train station. I’ve not even scratched the surface on traveling this planet of ours, having only been to 13.43 percent of the countries on Earth.